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Roethlisberger's 2015 offense will be the most complete of his career

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Much has been made about how good the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense can be in 2015, but let's take a look at how this could be the most complete unit that Roethlisberger would be part of as he begins his 12th year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue to make our way through the dog days of Summer between the NFL draft and training camp, much of the excitement around the expectations of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2015 season focus on the team's offensive weapons, including the team's franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger enters his 12th season as an NFL quarterback in 2015 and has spent each of those years in Pittsburgh. Since his rookie season when he won 15 straight starts, Roethlisberger has been a major name in the NFL that has been a huge part of the Steelers' successes and failures over the years. His two Super Bowl victories and three AFC Championships are just some of the seasons when his play excelled and was part of the team having their best stretches.

For every one of those seasons Roethlisberger has good-to-great weapons and contributors which he could rely in the offense to succeed. But over the course of twelve seasons, the strengths of certain units seem to flourish and diminish as players retired, left for free agency or cut from the team. This season, Roethlisberger is looking at what will be the most complete offense for which he's been at the helm.

To show this, let's look at some of the best units he's had for the different parts of the offense. We'll review the offensive line, the backfield and primary running backs, the receiving corps as well as offensive coordinators.

Offensive Line:

2005 Offensive Line: Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings, Kendall Simmons, Max Starks.

This offensive line's interior featured three first round picks in Jeff Hartings, Kendall Simmons and Alan Faneca, backed by second round tackle Marvel Smith and third round pick Max Starks.  This group was huge and was often capable to set the tone at the line of scrimmage and open up holes for the running game to make plays on their way to a victory in Super Bowl XL.  Their abilities contributed to what is still tied for the longest run from scrimmage in the Super Bowl by Willie Parker when he sprinted 75 yards to increase Pittsburgh's lead over Seattle.  They also provided consistent protection for Roethlisberger against the blitz, allowing him more time to make his backyard-football styled plays where he'd spend lots of time letting his receivers get open after their routes had been run and he completes big plays in that style. Throughout Ben's career, that style of play was his signature in the NFL and this group allowed him a lot more time to make those plays in his younger years.  Alan Faneca was the Steelers' best offensive lineman between Demontii Dawson and Maurkice Pouncey, and Jeff Hartings was solid throughout his stint in Pittsburgh, but what bolsters this line was also the strength in their supporting cast.  Simmons was a young player in his third season and a strong interior player, but the weakest of the inside three linemen.  Starks and Smith were both maulers who were built to be NFL offensive tackles to stymie pass rushers and control the edges in the run game.

2015 Offensive Line: Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert.

Where this offensive line compares to the strength of the 2005 unit is the one two punch of a strong guard and center in the interior. Maurkice Pouncey was just ranked as the 83rd best player in the NFL on the NFL's top 100 list.  He's also made the Pro Bowl as well as the All-Pro team in four of his five seasons in the league; the one season he didn't make it onto either was when he was lost for the season on the offense' first drive of the year.  He and David DeCastro are both first round picks that have shown a lot of promise and are still in their mid-to-early twenties. Though DeCastro was the sole reason Pouncey missed the one season he was injured, the two have been solid nasty teammates that are helping Pittsburgh earn more successes in the ground war.

Where this line differs is in the players it invested the least amount of draft value to get, in both a seventh round draft pick of Kelvin Beachum and undrafted guard Ramon Foster. Beachum was ranked as the 5th best offensive tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in 2014, and a major contributor to the successes last season by this unit.  His lack of size is his biggest liability, but he makes up for it in technique and effort, though his size will still present a challenge in certain situations.  Ramon Foster is an adequate guard at this point in his career and the Steelers haven't had to divest their attention from reshaping the defense through the draft to address another offensive line position thanks to him.  Marcus Gilbert fits the mold of the mauler in size, but is still young and developing in the league.

This line has not shown the ability to be great at a consistent pace as did the 2005 Steelers' offensive line, but the major upside is that all these players were young, whereas Faneca and Hartings would soon have to leave Pittsburgh and the Steelers would not find suitable replacements in the draft until they selected Pouncey and DeCastro in recent classes.  So while 2015 may not be better than 2005 right now, they certainly have not hit their ceiling and the gap between them and the 2005 group isn't that big at all.


2005 Backfield: Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley, Dan Kreider, Verron Haynes, Noah Herron.

Ironically, we're going to go with the backfield that benefited from the previously mentioned offensive line group, the 2005 running backs.  The dynamics of this unit were a major reason for the offense's success that season.  2005 saw fast Willie Parker explode onto the scene in his second season and gain over 1,200 yards, leading the team.  Behind him was the seasoned Jerome Bettis who was returning for one more chance to win a Super Bowl, as well as the diminished but former 2004 major free agent pickup, Duce Staley, and the young Verron Haynes.  Another major, yet often unsung, contributor in this backfield was the ever reliable Dan Kreider. Kreider embodied the blue collar feel to Steelers players, much like Heath Miller does today.  He didn't often get an opportunity to make a play with the ball, but he was an excellent lead blocker to open up holes and compliment the already strong offensive line.

Though Parker was still learning in his second season, his speed was always a threat to opposing teams and once he established his reputation as a speedster, defenses had to respect it when they came into games, giving the offense an added dimension.  When a change of pace was necessary and the team needed a power back, they had the aged but still spry Bettis, a player who was already known as one of the best big backs in NFL history.  Bettis had multiple iconic moments in his final NFL season, including his trucking of Brian Urlacher, and scoring three touchdowns in his last game at Heinz Field to seal the Steelers' playoff bid that season.  These two were a solid combination that were a big part in that Super Bowl victory.

2015 Backfield: Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Will Johnson, Josh Harris.

Le'Veon Bell was able to amass the second most rushing yards in the NFL in only his second season and is extremely young.  Though he'll miss his first three games of the season, he's still going to be one of the major cogs that will make this offense go.  The threats he poses to defenders are so multi-dimensional that he presents a problem every time he's on the field. When he has the ball he can accelerate through the hole, shake defenders off with quick and elite footwork, leap over them, run through them, block them on a pass rush, and is an ultimate receiving threat. That by itself is more diverse than any single running back has brought at any point of the Roethlisberger era.

Bell's supporting cast in Williams, Archer Johnson and Harris may not have the elite connection to the Steelers that Bettis did, nor does it have the proven tough run-blocking running back in Kreider, but it still has weapons.  Williams will be a spell back that can hit a hole and give Bell the necessary reprieve, while Archer needs to prove that he's just not a speedster and can apply his phenomenal speed to making big football plays.  Will Johnson looks to be a solid tight end/fullback combination of a player though.

All in all, the fact that Bell is leading this backfield makes this backfield one of the best Ben's ever had by default, and a strong argument to make it the best.

Receiving Corps:

2009 receivers: Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Heath Miller.

Ok, so yeah I didn't put Limas Sweed in that list and he was part of this group, but the point is the names mentioned were a great group together.  Ward recorded 1167 receiving yards with six touchdowns and was in the tail-end of his career. Holmes was coming off of his Super Bowl MVP season and posted 1248 yards with five touchdowns.  Wallace was in his rookie season and exploded onto the scene with 756 yards and six touchdowns (which would be a career low for him while he was in Pittsburgh).  While other groups could be talked about, as the Steelers failed to make the playoffs this season, this group was probably the best mix of existing potential and established veterans that Roethlisberger worked with. Holmes and Ward had worked magic for Ben already, both winning Super Bowl MVPs while he was with the team, and Miller was a proven asset for the offense in a season which would be the second best of his career.  Wallace's blazing speed made him a force to be reckoned with and with the top two receivers attracting a great deal of attention he took the opportunity to show his skills. Most notably when he caught a clutch touchdown at the last second against the Green Bay Packers when Roethlisberger would eclipse 500 yards in a game for the first time in his career.

2015 receivers: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Heath Miller.

Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football, period. If he continues to improve he may be widely regarded as one of the best that have ever played the game. His past two seasons have been nothing short of phenomenal and the offense is still improving as a whole. Behind him is a young group whose ceiling looks to be very high; both Wheaton and Bryant have already proven to be athletic receivers that can be playmakers with the ball in their hands.  Bryant missed close to half the season, but hauled in eight touchdowns during the season and showed off his natural abilities in his height and speed.  Wheaton looks to be a solid role playing receiver who looks to be a great option out of the slot who can make possession receptions but also be quick enough to make defenders miss.  Miller is much older than before, but he's still reliable and a target for Roethlisberger in the red zone.  Sammie Coates being a rookie with similar talents to Martavis Bryant looks to be an exciting fourth option to the wide receiver group.

The bottom line is that the proven options in Brown and Miller are of the best Roethlisberger has ever had, and the ceiling for the young trio of receivers in Wheaton, Bryant and Coates is as enthralling to think about as when the "Young Money Crew" emerged in 2011. The Steelers have been doing a great job drafting at wide receiver in recent years, and it looks to be paying in dividends.  The advantage here goes to the 2015 group.

Offensive Coordinator:

Bruce Arians:

Arians' time as a Steelers offensive coordinator saw him and Roethlisberger develop a close bond. Roethlisberger was given more of a freedom to hold the ball and make his own plays outside of what was designed for the exact plan pre-snap.  Though it didn't work at times, it was part of the legacy in Roethlisberger's first two Super Bowls.  Roethlisberger also threw 32 touchdowns in 2007 under Arians' scheme, a feat that he has only matched once since, and has consistently been a major franchise player for Pittsburgh.  Ben never had enough time under Ken Whisenhunt to fully develop in his system.

Arians' departure came from many complaints in the lack of complexity and organization of the offense.  Too many bubble screens and failures in the red zone became the battle cry for frustrated Steelers fans who grew impatient with the Steelers' shortcomings over the years.  While Arians' offense had its successes and won a Super Bowl, he left Pittsburgh with many fans glad to see him go.

Todd Haley:

Much was made about Ben Roethlisberger's supposedly rough relationship with Todd Haley.  Roethlisberger wasn't happy that Arians was gone and Haley definitely sparked a change in the direction of the offense.  Ben has begun to hold the ball less and rely more on pre-snap adjustments and decisions based off of him reading opposing defenses rather than being able to scramble around, dodge three players and find an open man.  Roethlisberger can still do that, but the need is lessened in Haley's scheme.

Between 2007 and 2009, Roethlisberger averaged being sacked more than 47 times in a season.  In 2014 he was sacked just 33 times and managed to take a lot less quarterback hits. 2014 was also a season where Roethlisberger threw for 4952 yards, a career high for Ben and the tied season high for the NFL with Drew Brees, as well as 32 touchdowns and recording the second highest passer rating in a single season for his career.

Numbers can be crunched all day, but the point is that in Haley's offense Ben has become less reliant on just his physical skills and becoming a more elite in his cognitive quarterback decisions.  Part of that is also that Ben is just becoming more wise as he gains more experience in the league, but Haley's focus has been to improve the team's red zone numbers and part of that will come from Ben knowing his system inside and out.

Earlier this week Jeff Hartman wrote about how Roethlisberger's confidence in Haley's offense and how the team seems to be buying into it; something that is needed for this offense to lead the league.  Ben has now had time to fully learn the intricacies of Haley's schemes and develop working relationships with his teammates. Not only does Ben's experience become a major asset, but Haley's focus on improving decision-making and red zone efficiency gives Pittsburgh an edge.


The 2015 Steelers' offense looks to have the full package that Roethlisberger hasn't had in his career.  The 2005 group had what was arguably the best combination of linemen and running backs, but it's receiving corps were not as strong as other years, let alone this one.  Hines Ward was in his prime but behind him was not the electrifying second option that the Steelers have had in recent teams and looks to have this season.  This current group is the first strong offensive line the team has had since the 2005 group dissipated and was replaced by what might be the worst offensive line to win a Super Bowl in 2008-2009.

This combination of an offensive line, running back group and receving corps is arguably the best Ben has had going into a season. It's going to be up to him to lead them the promised land.